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PESHAWAR, Pakistan – In retaliation for Pakistan’s aggressive air assault on the tribal region this week, the Taliban declared “open war” and bombed a minibus Tuesday carrying 18 Pakistani air-force personnel on a major road in Peshawar. Up to 14 people were killed.
The flurry of violence continued late Tuesday, as Pakistani military and intelligence officials said a missile strike on a suspected militant training camp near the Afghan border killed at least nine people. The officials said at least four missiles struck in the South Waziristan tribal region.
The site of the earlier airstrikes, Bajur, is a rebel sanctuary north of Peshawar along the rugged Afghan-Pakistan frontier where Taliban and al-Qaida forces are particularly strong. It is reckoned to be a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
It also abuts Kunar province in Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have suffered greater casualties in the past two months as they have confronted an increasingly tenacious Taliban insurgency.
Pakistani security officials said their recent airstrikes had broken the Taliban’s siege around Khar, the capital of Bajur, where emboldened rebels had been digging trenches in an apparent effort to encircle the town and overrun it. The offensive killed dozens and forced tens of thousands to flee to camps farther north.
On Tuesday, Pakistani army helicopter gunships continued to fire on suspected Taliban positions in Bajur.
“It is an open war between us and them,” Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar said Tuesday. “If these kinds of operations continue against us in … the tribal areas, we will continue this.”
The bomb hit the air-force truck as it crossed a bridge on the outskirts of Peshawar. It blew a crater in the road some 10 feet wide.
A provincial-government spokesman, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said the explosion killed 14 people, most of them air-force personnel, and wounded more than a dozen. A 5-year-old girl in a nearby vehicle was among those killed.
On Tuesday, a senior Interior Ministry official confirmed authorities were investigating the identity of the suspected al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan, who reportedly was killed this week in Bajur.
Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed, who is also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri, is reputed to be the terrorist group’s financial expert. The Sept. 11 commission said he may have wired money to the Sept. 11 hijackers.
His death, if confirmed, would be a blow to al-Qaida.
Pakistani security officers said they believed he’d been killed but they hadn’t seen the body.
U.S. officials weren’t immediately able to verify the death, and two spokesmen for Afghanistan’s Taliban, Qari Yousef Ahmadi and Zabiullah Mujahid, said they had no information about the report.
Compiled from The Associated Press, The New York Times and McClatchy Newspaper reports
By Seattle Times news services
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Source: Seattle Times